How to avoid pitfalls when buying West African football players

One of Visma’s employees, Tax Lawyer Øivind Henrik von Mehren, has other areas of expertise besides corporate law.

Buying West African Football Players - experienceHe has a large engagement, interest and knowledge of football – particularly West African football. Through his blog westafricanfootball.com he shares his insight when presenting new talent in Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Senegal.

By combining his passion for tax law with his passion for football, Øivind aims to assist Norwegian football clubs with reporting obligations, tax and other legal challenges they may face. Based on his experience, which includes consultancy work for both Scandinavian clubs, agents and scouts, he highlights the best tips for clubs when buying, loaning and scouting West African football players:

Scouting for promising young players

Today, numerous clubs face economic challenges, scouting for promising young players and future stars is as important as ever. While powerful European clubs have extensive international scouting networks, many Scandinavian clubs scout within their own region – where transfer prices are high and competition is tough.

West African football – a complicated gold mine

Having followed West African football for more than 15 years, I dare say that West Africa is one of very few places left on the planet where it is still possible to find football ‘gold’. However, West African football is chaotic, complex, difficult to follow and full of pitfalls.

My 7 tips success formula for buying West African football players

1) Invest in a full-time scout if you consider buying west African football players

It will exhaust the club’s salary and travel budget, but it will be worth it in the end. Spending time in West Africa, watching games, talking to locals, building a network, is the best way to approach West African football. Danish side FC Midtjylland has gone even further by establishing a fruitful partnership with Nigerian amateur club FC Ebedei.

 

2) Narrow down the search – three major player categories

There are thousands of high quality footballers in West Africa. From my point of view, there are three major player categories to focus on when scouting West African football.

  1. The various players in the U-20 and U-17 national football teams. As a main rule, these youngsters have been picked for a reason. Watching these talents, in various youth tournaments around the world, is a good way to start collecting information. The downside: you won’t be the only scout at these events.
  2.  Key players at the various top level sides in West African football. Between 2009 and 2010, Norwegian sides Lillestrøm SK and Vålerenga IF signed three Nigerian players that were all key players for Warri Wolves FC in Nigeria; Fegor Ogude, Anthony Ujah and Nosa Igiebor. Today, they have all featured in larger teams and leagues than here in Norway, and have all played for the Nigerian national football team.
  3.  Renowned academies or youth developing clubs. A handful of West African clubs have gained international recognition for their youth development. Personally, I would feel comfortable signing a player from Diambars (Senegal), West African Football Academy (Ghana),  Inter Allies FC (Ghana), Coton Sport FC (Cameroon), ASEC Mimosas (Ivory Coast) or AFAD Djékanou (Ivory Coast).


3) Find out who represents the player

Unfortunately, we have seen several cases where a West African player has been represented by more than one agent – causing a great deal of frustration for all parties involved. The John Obi Mikel transfer saga back in 2005-2006 is a reminder to exercise caution when signing African players.

 

4) Find out who owns the rights to the player

In December 2014, Norwegian side Sarpsborg 08 signed Nigerian striker Emem Eduok from the so-called ‘A&B Academy. The following month, Tunisian powerhouse Espérance Sportive de Tunis signed Eduok – but this time from Nigerian club Dolphins FC. After weeks of confusion, it turned out that it was in fact Dolphins FC that owned the rights to the player.

 

5) Always do a background check

In July 2013, Norwegian side Viking FK signed the Nigerian striker Henry Osita Chikere. According to his agent, Chikere had scored 24 goals in 52 top level matches during the last three seasons. The reality was that Chikere had scored only once in three seasons (the same number of goals he scored during two years as a Viking-player). Unfortunately, several talented football players in West Africa have greedy, unprofessional agents. Be sceptical towards a player’s CV that looks too good to be true.

Even when a player has indeed scored a lot of goals, it makes sense to dig deeper. In 2013, Nigerian striker, Victor Namo, scored 18 goals for Nasarawa United FC, making him league top scorer. Strangely, 13 of the goals came from the penalty spot. Scoring 5 goals from open play from approximately 35 league games aren’t that impressive. Namo currently plays in Libya.

Although a touchy subject, age cheating is still a problem in West Africa. In 2011, the Nigeria U-20 national football team for the African Youth Championship included a defender, supposedly born in 1992. If correct, the player would have been 13 years old when he won the Nigerian Premier League, a tough and physical league, back in 2006. The player was eventually dismissed from the squad due to “technical reasons”. Signing a player suspected of age cheating could turn out to be problematic later on – reducing his market price significantly.

 

6) Don’t use time on “random” e-mails

Every day, club officials in Scandinavia receive numerous e-mails from agents, offering trials from talented West African footballers. These players are usually rather average, even if they are shown scoring wonderful goals in attached YouTube-videos, and have a sparkling (often incorrect) player CV. Way too often, Scandinavian clubs allow these players to participate in trials – and way too often these trials turn out to be a waste of time, much to the amusement of local newspapers and impatient supporters. The best players in West Africa will rarely, if ever, be found in such emails.

 

7) Aim for the stars when buying West African football playersBuying West African Football Players aim for the stars

On 16.08.2015, Chelsea FC, one of the most successful clubs in English football, signed Ghanaian left-back Abdul Rahman Baba from modest German side FC Augsburg. In 2012, Baba played for Asante Kotoko FC, arguably the biggest club in Ghana. I am convinced that Baba would have joined a Scandinavian club if he had been discovered before the German scouters found him. Scandinavian clubs should not settle for average players, but immediately aim for the stars.

 

Tax lawyer Øivind Henrik von Mehren is Visma Advokater’s football expert. With a fervent commitment to football and business law he aims to assist Norwegian football clubs, Norwegian player agents and their clients with reporting obligations, taxes and duties.

Follow Øivind Henrik von Mehren on Visma Advokater’s Facebook page for more football blogs or check out Visma Advokater’s website for information on how we can assist you. For more information about West African football, visit the blog: westafricanfootball.com

Are you a football player, visit our website for more information about tax return to Norway and how Visma can assist.

Øivind er advokat i Visma Advokater med skatt som spesialområde. Han arbeider mye med klagesaker, skatteprosess, omdannelser og utenlandsbeskatning. Øivind arbeider også med selskapsrett og annen forretningsjus.
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